After being nearly eradicated in China 50 years ago, syphilis has become the most commonly reported sexually transmitted infection in Shanghai, the nation’s largest city, the AP/Yahoo! News reports. According to a commentary published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, an average of one infant with congenital syphilis is born every hour in China. Commercial sex workers and men who have sex with men are fueling the increase, the commentary said. The change is a reflection of China’s “staggering” economic growth, which is providing businessmen and migrant workers with more income and opportunities to pay for sex, the AP/Yahoo! News reports.
While syphilis can be treated with antibiotics, many people never experience symptoms and are never diagnosed. If left untreated, syphilis can cause neurological problems and death. The World Health Organization estimates that 12 million people worldwide acquire syphilis each year, affecting about two million pregnancies. About 25% of those pregnancies result in miscarriages or stillbirths, while 25% of infants who survive are born underweight or with serious infections. Syphilis in newborns also can lead to deafness, neurological issues or bone deformities.
Although other countries have higher syphilis rates than China’s, the number of cases in the nation is increasing by 30% each year. Joseph Tucker, lead author of the NEJM commentary and an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said some of the increase could be the result of better screening and reporting, particularly among infants.
Syphilis also is on the rise in the U.S., after nearly being eliminated 10 years ago, the AP/Yahoo! News reports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in April that the number of infants born with syphilis rose from eight to 10 cases per 100,000 live births from 2005 to 2008, ending a 14-year decline. The increase was greatest among black women in the South.